GREENVILLE, N.C. — Excitement resonated from East Carolina University’s Health Sciences Campus on Friday morning as The Brody School of Medicine officially welcomed 86 new medical students – all North Carolina residents – during its annual White Coat Ceremony.

In front of a standing-room-only crowd of cheering family, friends and faculty members, the first-year medical students were individually presented with the white coats they will wear in patient care areas throughout their time at ECU.

Keynote speaker Dr. Aundrea Oliver, an assistant professor of thoracic and foregut surgery in Brody’s Department of Cardiovascular Sciences, spoke about the significance of the white coat.

“The most important thing to remember through this is that this is not about you,” Oliver said. “If you become an oncologist, or an epidemiologist or if you go into pediatrics, it doesn’t matter where your patient needs you or their families or the community. It’s about making change everywhere they are.

“The mark of a true physician is someone who can look into the face of uncertainty and say, ‘I don’t know, but I do know we are determined to find out,’” she added. “It’s someone who can look at a patient who is suffering and seek the truth to confront it wholeheartedly and not run away when someone else is in pain. All of us are achievers, all of us would like to be successful. But I will tell you that the best way to do that is to always put your patient who is right in front of you as your focus.”

Dr. Michael Waldrum, dean of the Brody School of Medicine and CEO of ECU Health, spent time with the students of the class of 2026 and is impressed by how they carry on the school’s tradition of graduating diverse professionals to tackle the challenges of providing health care to North Carolina’s rapidly diversifying population.

“They are part of that tradition, whether it’s a gender, ethnic, religious and language diversity,” Waldrum said. “What it takes to solve complex problems is diverse perspectives and then creating a culture and an environment where we can explore and inquire together with those diverse perspectives. That’s been Brody’s tradition and they are clearly part of that tradition.”

The students hail from 30 North Carolina counties and 26 different undergraduate institutions. Nearly 56% of the class is female, 17% are first-generation college students and more than 23% are from minority groups – Black, Native American and Hispanic or Latino – that the Association of American Medical Colleges considers “underrepresented in medicine.”

Raleigh resident Edith Rivera and her family immigrated to the United States from the Dominican Republic when she was a child. She later became the first member of her family to attend college.

Rivera explained why she chose to attend medical school at Brody. 

“I knew that my heart was in North Carolina and that I wanted to serve in the state, so naturally Brody was my top choice,” she said. “Their mission to train underrepresented physicians and improve the health of North Carolinians aligns with my personal mission.”

Having her family present to support her during Friday’s White Coat Ceremony was a surreal experience, she added.

“This symbolizes years of hard work and dedication marked by a lot of highs and lows both academically and professionally,” Rivera said. “I may be the one physically receiving the white coat, but my family is receiving their white coat today as well. This is for me as much as it is for them. It signifies one large step for my family.”

Like many of the other first-year medical students, Martin Green, of Durham County, said he is not sure what medical specialty he wants to pursue after graduating from Brody but chose the school because of the focus on equity and bringing quality health care to communities that are often overlooked.

“I wanted to find a program that valued serving the medically underserved and socioeconomically disadvantaged communities. It is important to me that I complete my medical education at an institution that is committed so heavily to not only its medical students, but also its surrounding community,” Green said.